TEMPE, Ariz. — Fifteen minutes.
That’s how long the Arizona State Sun Devils allowed themselves to enjoy Saturday night’s 48-23 victory over Colorado.
Their focus, almost immediately, shifted to Utah and an undefeated Utes team ranked No. 4 in the country.
“Obviously a very exciting week,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said Monday. “It seems at this point that the championship is on the line every single week, none more than this as we’re going up against probably the best opponent that we’ve played all season. We’re excited about our matchup. We feel this is going to be a week that defines us as a program and as a brotherhood.”
The game this week at Rice-Eccles Stadium is for first place in the Pac-12 South, a notion that was considered unthinkable just two weeks ago after the Sun Devils were embarrassed at home by USC.
But now, after back-to-back wins, including a victory over then-No. 7 UCLA, they can turn the unthinkable into the unbelievable.
ASU (4-2, 2-1) has never beaten two top-10 teams on the road in the same season.
Needless to say, pulling it off won’t be easy.
Yes, the Sun Devils have beaten Utah (5-0, 2-0) 11 straight times, but the past two meetings were won by a combined four points. Plus, this season’s Utes feature the conference’s third-leading rusher in senior Devontae Booker.
“I think that he’s up there in the caliber with Paul Perkins,” head coach Todd Graham said, referring to the UCLA running back. “Those two guys have got to be as good as there is in this league. I mean, really strong runner. He’s a powered, downhill runner, makes a lot of his yards straight ahead and cutting it back. So the challenge is like it is every week. But more so with this week because I think their offensive line is really good. I think their offensive line is blocking really well and that coupled with a great back like Booker is a big challenge. On the same hand, that’s one we have to rise up and meet.”
Booker is coming off his best game of the season — a 222-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 30-24 win over Cal. Booker amassed 267 all-purpose yards, which is the most by a single player against a ranked team this season.
The performance earned Booker Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
How ASU defends Booker and the Utah ground attack, third-best in the conference at 216.2 yards per game, will be a fun matchup to watch.
The Sun Devils are ranked fourth against the run (138.8) and second behind only Washington for allowing the fewest yards per carry (3.3).
“The team that can run the football is the one that will have the advantage,” said Graham, who expects to have Demario Richard available despite the sophomore running back leaving the Colorado game with an apparent leg injury. He exited the field on crutches.
“The key is push,” Graham continued. “If they get pushed, then they’re winning. If we get pushed, we won’t play on their side of the ball, they won’t play on our side of the ball.
Utah is the last undefeated team remaining in the Pac-12, and this is the first time they’ve started 2-0 in league play since joining the conference.
Against Cal, the Utes forced six turnovers, including five interceptions of quarterback Jared Goff.
“Utah’s a very opportunistic football team,” Bercovici said. “They’ve done a great job thus far. They play with energy, and they play with passion, and that’s something that we’ve got to match and surpass. But the reality is we’ve got to focus on ourselves, do what we need to do.”
Added Graham about the road matchup, just ASU’s second true test away from Sun Devil Stadium this season, “It will be very loud, a very challenging place. But that’s going on the road in the Pac-12. That’s the way it is. But obviously they’re very deserving of their fourth ranking in the country, and they have — they play really — you can tell they really care about each other. They’re a close-knit team, and, man, they play with a lot of physicality. So they’ve been very impressive.”
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